EDANA Interview

synergistic effort moves everyone forward

A recent interview on Textile World’s website had EDANA’s Scientific & Technical Affairs Director, Marines Lagemaat, asking question of keynote speaker Omar Hoek, executive vice president at Ahlstrom-Munksjö.

They were speaking about how difficult it is to manage innovation and many companies used a stage-gate process.  Mr. Hoek commented that the desire to manage using a stage-gate process came from wanting a clear predictable target and trying to organize efforts around current business infrastructure: structural, budgeting and accountability.

Also, he said that today we see many different types of innovation: fast pace and sometimes slow-paced, random behaviors, existing versus new technology, with or without external partners and more. “
It gets very complex,” he stated, “to make a one size fits all model for … innovation.”

It’s true that business loves predictability and structure. Innovations are often “revolutionary” or disruptive and so appears at odds with predictable core systems and structure. But nothing is further from the truth. Innovators love to take things that appear to be at odds and create synergies. That’s one of the things I love most about innovation.

So what do I mean?

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Don’t Hesitate Wait, or Debate; Instead, Innovate

blog+innovators

March through the Steps of Innovation

Global market
Need to compete
Outsource pressures
Slipping balance sheet.
 
Must differentiate
So, go innovate!
Innovate!
Innovate.
(Yeeeah, Innovate!)
 

This is today’s rallying cry. Businesses leaders intone it, government officials cantillate it, employees worry about it, and whole industries are moving to embrace it. We call it ‘innovation cheerleading’ because lots of people know innovation will help us compete, therefore they talk about it; but very few people know how to do it, so… they talk about it.

  • It is not enough to just speak about the importance of innovation.
  • It’s not enough to just generate lots and lots of ideas. Brainstorming is not the same as innovation.
  • And finally, it is not enough to just support innovation – this is critical to understand. Supporting innovation or creating an environment of innovation is nice to have but it is not necessary.

Innovation is produced by taking step-by-step action, by marching through a process that delivers results. Yes; there is a structured methodology for innovation, as counter-intuitive as that seems.

For some gifted few this process is instinctive and happens repeatably (Edison, G. Washington Carver, Eliza Murfey and Marion Donovan). For the vast majority, however, the act of innovation is like a lightning strike. It happens infrequently and below the surface of consciousness; therefore, there is no control and it is nearly impossible to manage.

As executives, we need innovation to become procedural within our organization. We need to schedule, track, and measure it. Once it is manageable it’s as useful as other business processes: cost reduction, Lean, optimization, new product development, inventory turns, and supply chain management. We need innovation to be repeatable, predictable, and positively impact our bottom line and align with our priorities.
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Tinkering is good; but it is not necessarily innovation

blogTinkering

Bruce Kasanoff (from Opportunity Shaper, Now Possible) just wrote a blog article called, “Why Tinkering Around is the Key to Success” It’s on linkedin.

He starts the article this way,

"Here is a quick way to judge whether your company will continue 
to be successful: can you tell your CEO that you spent the morning 
tinkering around with an idea? If the answer is yes, you are in 
good shape. If no, start looking for another job.

Successful companies know that the path to innovation isn't 
a straight line. Profitable growth is a messy, roller-coaster 
process that involves almost as many setbacks as victories. 
If you succeed in everything you do, you aren't aiming nearly 
high enough.

I get frustrated when companies talk and talk and talk about 
innovation, while simultaneously making it nearly impossible 
for their employees to tinker around. Tinkering is what drives 
innovation, not talking."

There is much that I agree with in Bruce Kasanoff’s article, but there are some big disagreements as well. In the spirit of lively conversation, here are my comments:

Bruce Kasanoff, you are correct. There are a few reasons why tinkering is so valuable: (1). You allow your brain to enter another state of being – it’s not linear, driven, goal-oriented. If you learn to recognize that “creative/tinkering” brain-state then you can enter it more easily and on-demand. The ability to move into and out of states-of-being is very valuable for serial innovators. You need to learn to develop that skill if you want to innovate reliably. (2). Developing your persistence ‘muscle’ is also vital to innovators because innovation generally takes effort and you cannot cave-in at the first obstacle. There are lots of reasons why innovators need to persist. It is a basic characteristic of great serial innovators.
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What Serial Innovators Know about Fear

blog_fear stops innovation

I read a blog article at the Huffington Post by Judith E. Glaser called, “Innovate or Evaporate“. This is a good article about innovation,  but I have one disagreement her statements about fear limiting innovation. In a nutshell she says,

"When fear 'owns our brains' we cannot think creatively... All we think about is how to protect ourselves."

There are indeed processes that happen consistently within the human brain. We have responses to inputs that travel in ‘ruts’ or along strong synapse paths. In these cases inputs create a cascade of reactions. Fear can cause a cascade of reactions that does indeed ‘close down’ the creative parts of our brain and get us stuck in protection mode. But, and this is a big ‘but’, it doesn’t need to. A person can train their brain to respond differently to fear – interrupt the cascade – deflect the automatic response – and react more usefully and creatively. Serial innovators train themselves to be able to change states.
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How do you balance quality and profitability?

zen rocks balanced and harmonious

Recently a continuous improvement professional asked, “How do you balance quality and profitability? If you maximize one, do you trade off the other?” My answer was:

My partner and I just finished writing a book on  safety, quality and productivity in the construction industry from an inventive point-of-view. What we found was really amazing. In the fewest possible words here’s the bottom line. Where ever you have a safety issue (or quality issue) you also have a hidden productivity issue. Solve for safety (and/or quality) and productivity efficiencies usually come along for free.
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Scott Burr’s perspective on reorganization

Only change 5 percent

Because Scott is very experienced at leading organizational change and has unique perspectives on innovation and leadership, he is often invited to provide perspective on issues or situations that others may not have considered.

Recently someone asked for his insights on restructuring an organization. He whipped out an email with these five points. 
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Structured Innovation – Inventiveness as a methodology

fantasy representation of enzyme in channel

A computer has invented! And it wasn’t just blindly following an algorithm. As I understand it, a computer called “Adam”* was programmed to carry out the entire scientific innovation process on its own. It formulated hypotheses. It designed and ran experiments. It analyzed the resulting data and then decided which experiments to run next. The computer incorporates artificial intelligence. This robotic system made a novel scientific discovery with virtually no human intellectual input (2009) and can utilize the scientific method.

Most of us who are serial inventors go through the innovation process so quickly, it seems like a single stroke of brilliance (I say with a modest tuck of my chin). But in fact, if we break down what is happening, there is a step-by-step process and this process has been studied for over 60 years.
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Solar Energy Creates Quite a Firestorm

blog_solar_local_generation

Wow, my comments on solar energy really upset some people.

They thought I entirely bypassed the largest single issue related to the viability of solar power as a significant contributor to our “power portfolio”, which was:

“how much energy per square meter is even available?”… the flux density of solar radiation at Earth’s orbit around the sun is a FIXED VALUE… people need to accept it… And no degree of engineering prowess can alter that fact. No technological leaps can change that. Nothing, short of altering the sun itself, or relocating the orbit of Earth… can alter that… You’re treating this like a PSYCHOLOGY ISSUE. It’s not. It’s a “cost/benefit analysis” issue, plain and simple… It will never become anything more than a “marginal” addition to the overall power generation pool…

The rest of the conversation got nasty, condescending, and increasingly irate. LinkedIn is usually more professional than that, but I had to respond even though I knew it would upset folks further because there were some glaring mistakes and I couldn’t let them be marginalized or dismissed as unrealistic, uneducated, or stupid.
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Hidden Resources – Your Problem or ‘The Ace Up Your Sleeve’

Ace up your sleeve for social or business innovation

One of the tools professional innovators use is the idea of resources. There are always hidden resources within a system (social system, financial systems, and technological system, etc.). Finding those resources and using them in new ways will allow change to take place.

Having said that, there is still a problem – the resources are hidden – as previously stated. The reason they stay hidden is
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